As we approach the synodal dynamics aiming at "deeper communion, fuller participation and greater openness to fulfilling our mission in the world," Catholic-inspired Organizations met again to discuss possible future paths in light of the pandemic and felt the need for renewed efforts toward a more human-oriented governance, multilateralism and development. Starting from the encyclicals Laudato Si’, Fratelli Tutti; from the governmental commitments; the 2030 agenda; and from the various initiatives and conferences that promote global responses, it is first noted that many of the international policies and responses remain hindered by continued self-defensive attitudes at national levels. Organizations express again their concern for the rapidly growing number of people left behind and promote the need for global collaboration to be built upon a more comprehensive and human oriented basis.  

Global change is a fact no longer to be denied. Yet, it is apparent how much the pandemic, climate change and the various other drivers of change are operating with greater speed and impact than what national capacities and willingness are achieving in effectively adjusting the wheels. The response to climate change doesn’t keep pace with the actual changes affecting the globe; international relations including the Top 20 largest economies worldwide are struggling in search of foundations for new alliances; economies have become much more interdependent and unfold responsibilities beyond national competences; the many efforts in the field of Human Rights require a more integral vision of the human person; access to vaccines has been ruled by national priorities and profit-oriented rules. The rapidly lengthening list of these indicators highlights the growing complexity and interaction of issues and points in more implicit ways at the underlying question on how global management can best be improved. Given the existing competitive nature of international relations, the need for more effective forms of global governance becomes increasingly evident. While such modalities may be difficult to achieve if built on national oriented logics, the process would stand better chances if founded upon a humanity-orientated perspective and on well-identified responsibilities, both fully shared by all stake holders.

There is a second barrier in organizing global responses. Pandemics, environmental change, poverty, migration, and the growing social unrest are all direct or indirect consequences of profit-oriented logics.  This economic focus has long been a major driver contributing to the policies of national independence, non-interference, and autonomy.  But these policies conveniently monitored a narrowing picture of the human person to be primarily considered as “producers” and “consumers.” Sustaining national labor markets and their growth became an important reference for governmental success that in turn served as a protective shield to sustain and further develop the profit-oriented logics. Positive responses to material needs thus contributed to an illusionary well-being: the more the response to material needs proved to become effective, the more it narrowed the vision on the human person. The Western world has reached the limits of this logic: social unrest is today paired with an important loss of credibility of political decision makers and bodies. It explains today’s claim and efforts of the younger generations worldwide to turn the wheel again in a more human-centered and environment friendly direction.  Catholic-inspired Organizations confirm their opinion that if the economy is expected to contribute to the renewal of global alliances, it will need to adjust its underlying profit-oriented focus.  

It is obvious that the present economic system gradually resulted in growing but important inequities. The global challenges of climate change, migration, pandemics, malnutrition, poverty, debt, and social unrest need to be addressed in fuller respect of the identity of the human person, including other dimensions than just material needs. Organizations therefore highlight the importance of earlier made recommendations promoting more inclusive societies[1].  Animating and developing greater inclusiveness in terms of freedom and human rights will meaningfully contribute to processes of integral individual development, community fulfillment and spirituality. Obviously, these processes are not just cut and paste exercises following ready-made patterns, but rather longer-term dynamics towards a multilateral, anthropocentric vision and integral development.  

Starting from the simple fact that we all share the same world, no matter our social, ideological, cultural or any other differences, serves the purpose of new multilateral alliances to address the interplay of factors and consequences of change.  Interactions between economy, development, environment, health, migration, human rights, education, family, and other social nuclei cannot be dealt with through sectorial or national approaches only.  A more profound anthropological analysis and a fuller vision of humanity are needed. Organizations refer in his sense to the goals of Laudato Si’ which promote ecologic economics and life-styles.

The situations related to the COVID-19 pandemic were often brought up in the discussions and interpreted as important revealers of the need to address global challenges from a new and clearly different perspective.  The pandemic is not about one but about two distinct disasters: the health issue for which no immediate medical response was available and the absence of global unity in developing a global response. While the first one essentially relates to health as such, the second is much more political, indicating how much responsive action has been left to national approaches and pharmaceutical companies.  Thousands of vaccines have been thrown in the gutter, yet just over 2% of the African population have been vaccinated over the past year. This may show that the care, respect, and responsibility for all humans remains too divided over national responsibilities which unavoidably results in inequities due to national resources and set priorities. Nations do not all have the necessary capacities and means to guarantee efficient responses, but the lack of shared responsibility for all populations inevitably furthers global pandemic situations to “live” longer.  

To protect populations against a boundary-crossing “enemy,” the national approach has paradoxically been privileged.  National borders have been reinforced, even within the regions well known for the free movement of citizens. It looked like a serious step backwards in time and global progress.  Millions of people could no longer travel, and hundreds of thousands of migrant workers were stranded, left without jobs and often in no condition to return home. Migrants faced reinforced administrative thresholds affecting the principle of non-refoulement and the asylum procedures. The closing of borders in fact revealed a greater impact on regular travel than it did in terms of reducing the number of irregular arrivals.  Even if the core purpose of these measures was not meant to stop migration, the ineffectiveness of national borders has again been illustrated. In starting from a person-centered vision, measures might have been less exclusive or marginalizing.

Lockdowns have isolated many young people and numerous young adults were deeply affected by the closing of schools, universities, and formation centers. During this period of confinement families have again given evidence as to how much they constitute a valuable fall back and backup for the many issues that arise and even more so in critical times. Yet, the various theoretical debates, often limited to Western viewpoints, seem to remain blind and deaf to the value of family as a societal building block in ensuring social, religious, and educational continuity. The world numbers over two billion of families and households, which may underscore how much all human communities are enriched by these social nuclei. Without recognition of the specific family dynamics as securing, loving, and educating units, efforts toward integral human development are weakened and the subsidiarity principle de facto endangered. Organizations therefore confirm again how much family is to be considered as a solid and fundamental reference in education and as an essential first step in pursuing the integral human development of all people.  Both family and education are therefore of primary value in any process of renewal.

For all this, it may be said that any national pandemic related rules come with a much broader and even global moral responsibility for 7.6 billion individuals. This responsibility may be nation-carried to fit the variety of cultural and political regimes but cannot be solely nation-driven or nation-oriented. In this sense, organizations welcome the recent efforts of the G20, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response recommendations, the G7 with the Carbis Bay Health Declaration seeking a more collective response toward ending the pandemic. The various governmental commitments to secure the “building of a resilient, integrated and inclusive global health system prepared and equipped to prevent the causes and escalation of disease” are very much welcomed but questions arise if the considered steps forward are about bio-medical strategies mainly or if they also include a deeper and broader humanity-oriented concern.  

Catholic-inspired Organizations contribute to the global society process through local action worldwide and in voicing their concerns. They promote the building of new global alliances based on a human oriented perspective which needs to take precedence over national perspectives and interests. Unity in vision and action beyond the national responses remains essential as much as the need to further invest in economic developments. Building such unity is not in the first instance about reaching consensus or win-win agreements but includes important debates on the interacting relationship between the rights of individuals, communities, national and global interests; between the need for securing economic growth at the service of all and in full respect of the human person; between the need for governance and the principle of subsidiarity. Renewing global alliances must therefore be developed in shared responsibilities and based on a genuine concern for humanity.

Johan Ketelers

2nd October 2021

[1] See the publication Toward a More Inclusive Society, by the Forum of Catholic-inspired Organizations, available here.